Chapter 23: A Grimm Auld Lang Syne
On Friday afternoon, Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny walked out to the main gate and Apparated to number twelve Grimmauld Place. Remus was waiting in the alley to meet them and was clearly delighted that they had come to stay for the holidays.
"You're in your old rooms and Dobby has already brought your trunks from school," he told them as he ushered them into the house.
His cheeriness seemed to have rubbed off on the old place. The house, decked out for the holidays, looked positively festive. Wreaths of fir and pine hung everywhere on the ground floor and the banister of the staircase was adorned with swags of holly and ivy. A magnificent fifteen foot fir tree stood in the entrance hall, decorated with a thousand glittering fairy lights and covered with ornaments.
"You know, this place is almost starting to feel homey," Ron said, surveying the welcoming hall approvingly.
Remus smiled. "You're welcome anytime. Dobby has tea ready, by the way. He'll bring it up to your common room when you're ready."
"Great! I could use something to eat after McGonagall's Transfiguration exam," Ron said. He looked sheepishly at Harry. "I never did manage to get that pig turned into a silk purse."
"Go get settled in then," Remus said. "And if you need anything, I'll be here in the library."
Ron, Ginny and Hermione started upstairs, but Harry hung back. "Actually Remus, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Of course, Harry. Come in."
Harry nodded to his friends who continued upstairs, then he followed Remus into the library.
"What can I do for you, Harry?"
"I have a problem I hope you can help me with," Harry said.
A worried frown creased Remus's brow. "What is it?"
"I haven't anything to give Ginny for Christmas and I was hoping you might have some suggestions."
Remus eyebrows rose in surprise and he smiled in amusement. "Well, I must say I'm flattered that you would ask my opinion, Harry, but I'm hardly an authority on shopping for women."
"Remus, please, I'm serious. You must have some idea."
Remus's expression turned sympathetic, but he shook his head. "Harry, you've known Ginny for years. I'm sure you have a better notion of what she might like than I do."
"She'd appreciate anything. I could get her a book or something for school. I was going to have Hermione buy her a pair of gloves for me last Saturday in Hogsmeade, but that didn't work out, of course."
"Those all sound like excellent ideas."
"I know, but this is the first Christmas that we've been dating and I'd like to give her something special." Harry looked helplessly at Remus. "I just don't know what that might be and thanks to the stupid DPS, I can't even go shopping properly."
"I see." Remus lapsed into thoughtful silence for a moment. "You know, Harry, there's no law that says you must buy a gift for someone. The best gifts come from the heart. If you truly want to give Ginny something special, give her something from you?"
Harry frowned. "Sorry, I'm not following you."
"Give her something that only you can give."
"Anything. You can bake her cake, write her a poem." Remus grinned at Harry's horrified reaction to that suggestion. "Clean her broom every week for the next six months. Give her something from you."
Harry chewed his lip and considered. "I see what you're saying. I suppose I could service her broom for her. Really go all out, polish it up and make it look like new."
"Give it some thought," Remus said. "And if you need to purchase anything, I'll be happy to pick it up for you."
Harry left the library and headed upstairs. As he approached the first floor, he could hear Ron, Ginny and Hermione talking in the old drawing room, but he didn't join them. Instead he went to his room, already going over in his mind what he would need to completely refurbish Ginny's broom. Remus was right about giving Ginny something personal. Mrs. Weasley's handmade jumpers had always been the highlight of her family's Christmas and Hermione had loved the keepsake album Fred and George had made for her the previous year, even if (or perhaps because) it had embarrassed Ron. The only trick would be getting hold of Ginny's broom, but Harry was confident that he could get Fred and George to bring it to him from Hogwarts.
Harry opened his trunk to find a piece of parchment and quill in order to make the list of supplies he'd need Remus to pick up. He had packed hastily the night before and had to dig through his truck to find the quills that had slipped to the bottom. As he did so, he came across the old cardboard box of his mother's keepsakes that had lain buried, almost forgotten, since summer. Harry stared at the box for a moment as a brand new idea formed itself in his mind then he pulled the box from his trunk and opened it. He laid aside the stacks of letters and surveyed the rest of the contents. There, in a corner of the box lay what he was looking for: a small, round, silver locket that held a Muggle photo of his grandparents.
Harry examined it critically. It was a simple piece of jewelry; the only decoration was an image of a unicorn etched into the front of it. It was tarnished and scratched slightly around the edges from years of wear, but Harry felt sure that it would polish up nicely. And once he cleaned it up, Harry was certain that it would make the perfect gift for Ginny – far better than a refurbished broom. What could be closer to his heart than something that had once belonged to his mother?
Harry removed the photo from the locket and put it carefully back in the box. Then he set about cleaning and polishing the locket. By the time he was finished, it was gleaming and the tiny scratches were hardly noticeable. He folded a clean handkerchief around the locket to protect it then wrapped the small bundle in paper and placed it in his trunk next to Ron and Hermione's gifts. Satisfied, Harry went to join his friends for tea.
The weekend passed unremarkably at Grimmauld Place. Harry spent a great deal of time doing nothing, which was wonderful. He chatted with Remus, Tonks and the other members of the Order who came and went. Everyone seemed to be in especially good spirits with Christmas so close – everyone except Snape. He had arrived mid-morning on Saturday looking even more dour than usual. He clearly wasn't happy about spending the holidays at headquarters and it wasn't hard to see why.
Snape had never been a popular member of the Order, but he had always been treated with respect and professional courtesy by his allies in the past. That had changed. While no one was overtly rude, Harry could tell that Snape was unwelcome. Conversations faltered whenever he entered a room. Those present often found reason to leave or else pointedly ignored him. Snape acted as though he didn't notice, but Harry knew that was only a pretense. The man couldn't possibly have missed the air of disapproval and tension that followed him wherever he went. Even Ron had commented on the cold shoulder Snape was receiving.
Moody treated Snape by far the worst. The animosity between the two men was even more pronounced than it had been during summer. The old Auror glared at Snape in barely contained disgust whenever they met and couldn't seem to resist making veiled comments to the man.
"So, Dumbledore sent you here?" he growled the first time they met. "Well, I can understand why he'd be worried about the DPS coming after you."
Snape's lip had curled contemptuously at the remark, but he'd made no reply and Remus had quickly intervened to turn the conversation to Order business. In fact, Remus seemed intent upon running interference between Snape and the rest of the Order, going out of his way to act as though nothing was amiss. Not that he earned any goodwill from Snape for his trouble: in fact, the man showed even more contempt for Remus than he did for those who shot dark glances at him.
Luckily, Harry's friends didn't know why Snape was being shunned by his fellow Order members. Ron put it down to the fact that no one liked the man. "He's a complete git, after all."
But Harry knew the real cause of Snape's frosty reception and it brought home to him the issue he'd been trying hard to ignore for weeks: the murdered Death Eaters. Fourteen had been killed so far and that fact weighed on Harry as he knocked at Snape's study door Monday evening.
Snape looked up from the book he was reading and frowned as Harry poked his head into the room.
"It's time for our Legilimency session," Harry said.
"Potter, don't you suppose we could dispense with that for the holidays?"
Harry shook his head. He had already decided on a strategy for getting past the wall in Snape's mind and was anxious to discover what was behind it. His imagination had been inventing horrors for days and Harry was certain that whatever he might actually find couldn't be any worse.
"Dumbledore said to keep at it," he told Snape.
"What is it that you find so indispensable about rummaging through my mind?" Snape asked testily.
"It's supposed to help me learn to navigate Voldemort's mind. You know that."
Harry hesitated. He wasn't really clear on that himself and truthfully, thoughts of Voldemort had become secondary to deciphering the mystery of Snape's mind. "I can't tell you that. Dumbledore said we're not supposed to talk about it."
Snape sneered. "You seem admirably devoted to following Dumbledore's instructions these days."
"Would you rather I didn't?"
"I'd rather you were honest. It's disingenuous, to say nothing of craven, to hide your own agenda behind protestations of obedience to the headmaster. Do you think I can't sense your emotions every time you enter my mind? I know perfectly well you aren't here because of Dumbledore – or the Dark Lord."
Harry regarded Snape in silence for a moment. He might be the expert in delving into the subconscious, but Snape was still the master of the conscious mind and Harry knew he couldn't lie to the man. Weighing his words carefully Harry said, "Dumbledore is convinced these exercises will help me learn to fight Voldemort and I need every advantage I can get. Beyond that, does it really matter how I feel or why?"
Snape's eyes narrowed slightly as he considered Harry. Harry could feel the man's mind probing his and fought the urge to look away. He held Snape's gaze keeping thoughts of Dumbledore's words foremost in his mind.
At last, seemingly satisfied, Snape nodded. "Very well, Potter. Let's get this over with."
Trying not to show his relief at having passed Snape's test, Harry sat down, calmed his mind and a moment later found himself standing in the familiar neighborhood in Snape's. He held out his hand and a shimmering Invisibility Cloak immediately appeared in it. Harry wrapped himself in the cloak and headed for the wall. When he came to the spot closest to Snape's house, Harry laid his hand on the bricks and concentrated. A door appeared where the section of solid wall had been. Harry pushed the door open and stepped through it, pulling off the cloak as he went.
It was noticeably darker on this side of the wall. Thick clouds hung low in the sky and the wind whipped Harry's hair. The most notable difference however was that there were people here. These appeared to be residents of the neighborhood. Some lounged in doorways, while others hurried by, the collars of their coats pulled up against the wind. Half a dozen boys ran by, laughing and calling out to one another. Harry recognized none of them.
Pulling up the hood of his sweatshirt, Harry headed up the block towards Snape's house. As he drew near, he could make out voices coming from inside. A man was shouting and Harry could hear a child crying in the background. Harry slowed to a halt as he drew near enough to make out the argument.
"It's not his fault!" a woman screamed. "He can't help it! He doesn't know how!"
"Then he'd better learn!" the man yelled.
There was a crash that sounded as though someone had just thrown a chair against a wall. The child wailed in terror as the woman continued to plead desperately.
"Tobias, no! Please! I'll teach him. I promise. It won't happen again."
"It'd better not!" the man shouted. "I mean it, Eileen. You make him stop or I will."
A door slammed and then the house fell quiet except for the muffled sobbing of the child. Harry stood frozen, listening to the forlorn sound and fighting the urge to blast open the front door and throttle the man who had terrorized his wife and child. It's not real, Harry reminded himself. It's only a manifestation of Snape's mind. But Harry was sure that the confrontation he'd just heard wasn't simply a creation of the mind. He had no doubt that it had occurred at some point in Snape's childhood.
Harry turned away from the house and continued up the street. In the next block he saw the same six boys who had passed him earlier. They were all huddled around something lying on the ground and as Harry approached, one of the boys kicked it roughly. This elicited a grunt of pain from the thing on the ground which Harry realized was a small boy.
"Hey!" he shouted, drawing his wand and breaking into a run.
The boys looked around, spotted Harry and took off, racing around the corner and out of sight. Harry let them go. He knelt down next to the boy who was curled up into a tight ball. The child couldn't have been more than eight or nine years old. There was already a large bruise forming on his left cheek, and his mouth was cut and bleeding.
The boy looked up at Harry with wary, dark eyes then shied away as Harry reached out to touch him. "Leave me alone."
"I'm not going to hurt you. I just want to help."
"I don't need your help," the child said, his eyes flickering back and forth as if in search of a means of escape. "Not yours nor anyone else's."
Deftly avoiding Harry's grasp, the boy rolled to his feet and backed away, then turned and ran. Harry watched him disappear into an alley and sighed. It was no wonder that Snape had walled off this part of his mind. It seemed to contain all of the most miserable experiences of his childhood.
Harry stood up, looked around and frowned. It was growing even darker than the ominous clouds overhead could account for. Night was falling and the neighborhood around him was quickly vanishing into the darkness. Suddenly a garish green light flared overhead. Harry looked up and was horrified to see the Dark Mark blazing in the sky. Worse, it illuminated the street which was now full of Death Eaters. To Harry's left a house erupted in flames shedding more light on the horrific scene. Everywhere Harry looked, Death Eaters were terrorizing helpless victims, looting shops and destroying homes.
But no one seemed to notice Harry. A Death Eater brushed by him without even glancing at him. Harry stepped in front of the next one to approach and brandished his wand. "Stupefy!" The spell had no effect.
Harry frowned and surveyed the mayhem taking place around him. Unlike the glimpses of Snape's childhood, Harry was sure that no Death Eater attacks of such magnitude had ever taken place in this Muggle neighborhood. Nor was such a massive attack likely to have occurred anywhere else. This had to be a compilation of the experiences Snape had had as a Death Eater and they appeared to be playing out automatically, like a scene from a Pensieve.
A curse blasted the building next to Harry. It had come from a group of Death Eaters who had appeared in the middle of the street and were engaged in a pitched battle with what looked to be a group of Aurors. Another curse shot past Harry and he decided it might be time to find a less exposed vantage point amidst the increasing pandemonium in the street.
As he looked around, however, Harry's attention was arrested by a dark figure standing across the street almost directly opposite him. The person was dressed in black, but not in the familiar robes the Death Eaters wore. These robes were utterly unadorned and so black they seemed to be made of darkness itself. No part of the person was visible. A deep cowl was pulled forward obscuring their features. But what disconcerted Harry was the way the figure stood perfectly still, observing everything in detached silence. No one attacked him or paid any attention to him. Like Harry, he seemed to stand apart from the scene playing out around them.
Then the hooded head tilted slightly and Harry felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck as unseen eyes turned towards him. The figure looked away again a moment later, but that single glance had left Harry shaken. For an instant, it had felt as though the Angel of Death was looking at him.
Without thinking, Harry started across the street towards the figure, dodging the madness around him. But by the time he reached the other side, the dark figure had disappeared. Harry looked around trying to determine which way his quarry might have gone, but a dense fog was beginning to collect in the street and soon it obscured Harry's vision entirely. With the arrival of the thick wall of mist, the sounds of fighting and screams of terror died away too, leaving complete silence. Then the fog lifted to reveal a cold gray dawn. The Dark Mark had vanished from the sky and the Death Eaters were gone. In fact, there was no sign that they had ever been there. The street was exactly as it had been before they had appeared.
A door opened at a house across the street and an unshaven man wearing sagging trousers and an undershirt glared at Harry, picked up the paper lying on his doorstep then disappeared back inside the house. At the same moment, someone grabbed Harry and spun him around.
"I told you not to come here!" the young man spat, white with fury.
Snape shook Harry, his fingers digging into Harry's arms. "You had no right!"
"I had to come," Harry said, shoving Snape away. "I have to know why you built that wall. I have to know the truth."
"Why?" Snape snarled. "So you can use it against me?"
"Of course not! I'm not trying to hurt you. I want to help you."
"Help me?" Snape scoffed. "And what do you get? What do you want from me?"
Snape's lip curled in derision. "Nothing? Then why so concerned for me?"
"Because I'm your friend."
Snape laughed scornfully. "Surely you can do better than that."
"It's the truth," Harry said.
Snape's eyes flashed angrily. "It's a poor friend who invades my privacy against my express wishes, don't you think?"
"Then tell me what's here that you can't bear to face."
"I'm not telling you anything."
"Then I'll have to find out for myself because I'm not going to let you go on being this miserable."
"You arrogant –"
"Am I wrong? Look me in the eyes and tell me I'm wrong. Tell me you're happy. But no, even you can't manage that big a lie, can you?"
"Leave me alone." Snape yelled.
"No! I won't."
The two young men glared furiously at one another.
"Such a typical Gryffindor; so sure of your noble cause," Snape said bitterly at last. "Suit yourself then. Go wherever you like, but whatever you think you're doing, no good is going to come of it; I promise you. And we'll see how long your protestations of friendship last in the face of your coveted truth."
"Nothing I've seen here has changed my opinion of you, nor will it."
Snape smirked at Harry. "You haven't seen everything, yet."
Snape turned and strode away. Harry sighed and closed his eyes.
Harry opened his eyes and looked at Snape. The man blinked and shook his head, then winced slightly as if in pain.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked.
"Of course I am," Snape said irritably.
However, Harry noticed the man looked unusually pale and drawn. Harry quickly took his leave and, exhausted from delving into Snape's mind, went straight to bed. It was late and Ron was already snoring, but despite Harry's fatigue, he couldn't sleep. The scenes from Snape's mind kept replaying in his own and something about them bothered him. It wasn't the fact that they'd been dark and depressing. Harry had long known that Snape's childhood had been miserable and it was no surprise that Death Eaters roamed the man's mind. But their surreal attacks hadn't been as horrifying as some of the attacks Harry had witnessed in his visions the previous year. In fact, now that Harry thought of it, nothing he'd seen had been particularly shocking and that was what was troubling him. None of it had been bad enough.
Harry had spent months studying Occlumency and Legilimency with Snape. He knew the man's mind and knew Snape wasn't especially traumatized by his childhood. Nor was he in denial over his past as a Death Eater. These weren't happy memories, but he had no difficulty facing them. So why were the manifestations of these parts of his past locked away behind a wall? Why was Severus so adamant that Harry shouldn't see them? It made no sense.
There was, however, one thing Harry had encountered that had sent a chill down his spine: the figure in black. Harry wished that Dumbledore wasn't incommunicado on the continent so that he could discuss this apparition with the old wizard. There had been something sinister about it and Harry wondered if this silent figure lurking in Snape's mind was what the wall had been built to guard against. Perhaps it was this mysterious figure that Severus feared, and as he drifted towards sleep, Harry wondered what dark secret the figure might represent.
Harry awoke to a bright chorus of "Happy Christmas!" from Ginny and Hermione as the girls came into his bedroom on Christmas morning. He reached for his glasses and sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as Ron sat up yawning.
"Happy Christmas," Harry replied.
"We thought we might as well exchange gifts in here," Hermione said as she passed out the brightly wrapped packages she was carrying and then sat down next to Ron. Ginny sat down next to Harry and they proceeded to open their presents.
They all received books, but Ron seemed especially happy with his: Winning Quidditch Strategies.
"Is it all right?" Hermione asked, biting her lip.
Ron grinned and kissed her cheek. "It's perfect!"
Hermione beamed as Ron retrieved a bundle of presents from under his bed and handed them out. "Here you are, then. Happy Christmas!"
Surprisingly, Ron's gifts all turned out to be sweets. Harry received a chocolate cake, Ginny a tin of her favorite biscuits and Hermione a beautiful gift box of truffles.
"There are preservative charms on all of them, so they won't go bad," Ron said.
"Thanks, Ron!" Harry said, scooping up a bit of frosting on his finger and licking it off.
"All right, mine next," Ginny said, passing out three identical flat boxes. She fidgeted nervously as Harry, Ron and Hermione opened their packages. Inside each was a jumper.
"I didn't knit them," Ginny said quickly. "I just did the embroidery. It didn't take much time."
Harry looked down at his green jumper and discovered a small phoenix embroidered on the front of it. "This is brilliant! It looks just like Fawkes."
"They're beautiful!" Hermione agreed, holding up a vivid red jumper with an owl adorning it.
Ginny, however, was watching Ron who was staring at his golden brown jumper which bore a lion's head.
Ron looked up at his sister and smiled. "Yeah, it's brilliant."
Ginny grinned in relief.
"Go on then, you all need to open mine," Harry said, retrieving his gifts from his trunk.
Ron and Hermione were both delighted with their gifts from Harry, but it was Ginny whom Harry watched as she opened the tiny package and unfolded the handkerchief.
"Oh Harry, it's lovely!" Ginny said, holding up the locket.
"It was my mum's," Harry said quietly. "I found it amongst the things my aunt sent me over summer."
Ginny, Ron and Hermione all looked at him in astonishment.
"Your mum's?" Ginny said. "Are you sure you want me to have it?"
Harry nodded emphatically. "Of course. I'm not going to wear it and it's stupid to leave it lying at the bottom of my trunk. Besides, there's no one else I'd rather have it than you."
Ginny's face lit up in delight and she hugged Harry tightly. Hermione was beaming as well, though Ron still looked slightly stunned. Ginny undid the clasp and put the locket around her neck. Harry thought it looked especially pretty on her.
The rest of the day passed pleasantly. Fred and George showed up mid-morning wearing matching blue jumpers which had jesters embroidered on them and which they showed off proudly to everyone as Ginny blushed happily. They left for the Burrow after lunch and Harry and his friends spent the afternoon relaxing in their makeshift common room.
By late afternoon, however, the aromas wafting up from the kitchen had become so mouth-watering that Harry's stomach began to growl in anticipation of dinner. Fortunately, Remus appeared soon afterward to announce that it was time to eat. Harry and his friends went down to the dining room where Dobby had laid the table with a starched white cloth, china and silverware in honor of Christmas.
"You didn't have to go to this much trouble, Dobby," Harry said, surveying the room. "It's only the seven of us tonight."
"Oh, but it is Dobby's pleasure, sir!" Dobby said sincerely then vanished, presumably back to the kitchen.
"It's true, you know," Remus told Harry with a smile. "House elves take tremendous pride in their ability to host the perfect dinner party. Believe me: Dobby's having a wonderful time."
"Don't waste your breath on explanations, Lupin," Snape said as he entered the room. "Taking pride in excellent work is a foreign concept to Potter."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Happy Christmas to you too, Professor."
Snape made no reply, but the corners of his mouth twitched slightly as they all took their seats.
Dinner was delicious, of course. Dobby had out done himself and Harry only wished that the rest of the Order members could have been there to share the feast. But everyone else was either with their own families or on duty somewhere. The war didn't stop for Christmas.
When dinner was over, Dobby announced that dessert would be served in the library. That suited Harry perfectly. He was grateful for the chance to take a break and stretch his legs after the meal he'd just eaten.
In the library there was a table filled with an astonishing array of desserts. There was a wide variety of bite-sized tarts and tiny cakes, dishes of custard and a large crystal bowl of fruit along with a dish of clotted cream – anything anyone could want and more than they could possibly eat. In addition to dessert, there was a large bowl of mulled wine waiting by the fire.
"I made that," Tonks confided to Harry. "It's an old family recipe of my dad's," she added with a wink. Harry smiled and ladled some of the punch into a cup. To his surprise it was quite good.
"Miss Weasley, where did you get that?"
Harry looked around at the sound of Snape's voice. The man was staring at Ginny's locket which was gleaming in the firelight.
"Harry gave it to me for Christmas," Ginny said.
Snape looked over at Harry with an inscrutable expression then turned away without another word.
"What was that about?" Harry asked Ginny quietly as she joined him by the punch bowl.
Ginny shrugged. "I don't know."
Harry frowned and looked at Snape who was now talking with Remus across the room. The man barely acknowledged their presence most of the time and he certainly wasn't one to make idle conversation with his students about jewelry. Why would he ask about Ginny's locket? Harry shook his head, wondering if he was ever going to understand Snape.
Harry had the same thought a few days later as the time approached once more for his and Snape's Legilimency session. He had thought that finding a way through the wall in Snape's mind would be a revelation, but it hadn't been. It had only resulted in a row with Severus and now Harry feared that he might spend weeks tediously searching this new part of Snape's mind and still find no answers. His one bit of good fortune was that, having already been behind the wall once, he was able to focus his thoughts and reach out for that part of Snape's subconscious as he descended into the man's mind. This time he found himself standing in front of Snape's house as the old neighborhood sprang up around him.
"It's not his fault!" a woman screamed. "He can't help it! He doesn't know how!"
"Then he'd better learn!" a man yelled in reply.
There was a crash and Harry grimaced. He really didn't want to hear that argument again. He turned away and struck off in a different direction from the one he'd taken on his previous visit. But before he'd gone a block he spotted a fight up ahead. He recognized the boys and shot a Stinging Hex at the biggest one who was about to punch a much smaller, dark haired boy.
The big boy yelped in pain and surprise. He cast a frightened look at Harry, then he and his friends ran. Harry pocketed his wand and went to examine the boy who was leaning against the wall. This incarnation of Snape's childhood self was a little older than the last one Harry had met; ten or eleven probably.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked.
The boy glared at Harry. "You didn't need to do that. I can take care of myself."
"I'm sure you can, but six to one odds aren't fair."
"Since when is life supposed to be fair," Severus sneered. "Just stay away from me. I don't need your help or anyone else's."
The boy pushed away from the wall and headed down the street. Harry watched him go, feeling a growing sense of unease. It was as if he'd used a Time-Turner to relive his previous experience here. The details were different, but the substance was same and Harry knew what was coming next. He looked up and sure enough the sky was growing dark overhead. He clenched his fists in impotent frustration as the Dark Mark erupted in the sky and the Death Eaters appeared.
Harry watched their debauchery in disgust, but suddenly he remembered what else he'd seen during this rioting and looked around. There across the street was the dark, silent figure. Harry didn't hesitate this time. He sprinted towards the black-robed phantom, heedless of the melee around him. The dark figure turned away into a narrow side street as Harry approached, but Harry chased after him. Away from the glare of the Dark Mark and the fires the Death Eaters had set it was pitch dark. Harry could see nothing, but he didn't stop. He could sense the movement of something ahead of him and was determined not to lose his quarry this time. He ran on, relying on sound and instinct to guide him down one street after another. But when at last he came out onto a broad street where morning was dawning, the mysterious figure had once again disappeared.
Harry cursed and slammed his fist against the wall of the house next to him.
"Can I help you?"
Harry jumped and whirled around to see a girl, perhaps a year or two younger than him, regarding him; and he was shocked to realize that he knew her.
"M – er… Lily?" he whispered, certain that he must be imagining the girl in front of him.
Lily Evans smiled. "That's right. Who are you?"
Harry swallowed. "Harry."
"Nice to meet you Harry. Are you all right? You look a bit pale."
"I'm fine. What are you doing here?"
Lily looked curiously at Harry. "I live here," she said, nodding at the modest house next to them.
Harry looked at the house and realized that he had seen it before. It had been in one of the photos of his mother's family that his aunt and uncle had sent him. But what was it doing in Snape's mind?
"I was on my way to the park," Lily said, interrupting Harry's thoughts. "Would you like to come?"
Harry nodded and Lily led the way down the block to what turned out to be a vacant lot which had been planted with trees and flowers. It was surprisingly nice. Though tiny and hemmed in by buildings, it was the one spot of beauty in an otherwise dreary landscape.
"This is lovely," Harry said, meaning it.
"Thanks. I do my best."
Harry looked at Lily in surprise. "You did all of this?"
"Yes. It takes a lot of work to keep things up, especially when I'm the only one trying, but it's worth it. I only wish I could do more. The neighborhood may not be the most handsome, but it doesn't have to be so mean. With some effort, it could be quite lovely. The trouble is that no one else bothers to look past the ugliness and neglect to see the potential of the place. No one seems to care. Even Severus has stopped caring."
"Yes. He used to come and see me from time to time, but he hasn't come now in ages. Will you tell him to come and see me, if you talk to him?"
"I'll try," Harry said, then looked away from the earnest, hopeful look in Lily's green eyes. That look made him decidedly uncomfortable. Don't be ridiculous! Harry chided himself. This isn't Lily. It's only a manifestation of Snape's mind. That thought didn't do much to cheer Harry though. Why would his mother be in Snape's mind?
Harry cast about for something to dispel that disturbing question. "Lily," he said, "Before I met you I was following someone, a person dressed all in black. Even their face was hidden. Do you know who I'm talking about?"
Lily frowned. "We don't talk about him."
"We just don't. Severus won't allow it."
"Why won't Severus allow it? Is he afraid? Who is this fellow?"
"I can't tell you, Harry! I'm sorry, but I can't talk about him."
"That's all right," Harry said. "I'd better be going, anyway." Harry turned to leave the park and Lily called after him.
"I hope to see you again, Harry. And don't forget to tell Severus to come and see me!"
Harry opened his eyes and stared at Snape. Snape stared back then frowned questioningly.
"Is something wrong?"
"No," Harry said curtly. "Of course not. Everything's fine."
Snape cocked an eyebrow at Harry, but Harry stood up and stalked out of Snape's study before the man could say anything else. Harry was angry with Snape and angry with himself because he knew he shouldn't be. He didn't even know why he resented his mother's presence in Snape's mind. Maybe it was because the only time he'd seen the two of them together, Snape had called Lily a Mudblood? Or maybe it was because Severus was ignoring the girl who was clearly hurt by being shunned? Why would Snape even create a manifestation of Lily in his mind and then lock her away behind a wall where he never intended to go? It made no sense.
Harry slipped quietly into his bedroom so as not to wake Ron. He undressed in the dark and crawled into bed, still pondering all the mysteries of Snape's mind. One thing was clear. He'd been right to worry that breaching that wall wasn't going to yield any quick answers. In fact, he now had more questions than ever.
New Year's Eve was a quiet affair at Grimmauld Place. That suited Harry, who was preoccupied with thoughts of Snape, his mother and the ominous dark figure that apparently none of the denizens of Snape's mind were supposed to discuss. Harry wanted nothing more than for the holidays to be over so that he could return to Hogwarts. With this in mind he was doing his utmost to pack during his last evening at headquarters in the hope of avoiding the usual mayhem of sorting everything in the morning. He was rummaging through the cupboard in the entrance hall for his school shoes, which Dobby had taken to polish the previous week, when he heard voices coming through the wall from the library. Harry froze, listening to the conversation in the adjoining room.
"He'll be gone tomorrow," Remus's tired voice said.
"Not a moment too soon, if you ask me," Moody replied in his familiar growl.
"You're being too hard on him. I've talked with Dumbledore and he swears –"
"Dumbledore is too trusting!"
"There's no evidence!"
"There probably is if anyone in the bloody ministry would bother to look."
"You know, Moody, it really does become tedious when you repeat yourself endlessly," Snape drawled, having obviously just walked in on the conversation. "Do you honestly think it will change anything to go on and on about the incompetence of the ministry?"
"The truth deserves to be told, whether you want to hear it or not, Snape. You can't hide from it forever. It always comes out in the end."
"We'll see about that."
Moody snorted and Harry heard him stump out of the library and out the front door.
Then Remus's voice caught Harry's attention once more. "Severus –"
"Don't say it!" Snape hissed. "I don't need your patronizing advice."
"I'm only trying to keep the peace, here. We gain nothing from you two being at each other's throats!"
"You needn't worry much longer. As you said, I'll be gone tomorrow."
"That's hardly a permanent solution. This can't go on. Severus, for god's sake!"
"Stop it! I don't need to listen to your exhortations on top of his insults."
Harry heard the library door slam. He peeked out of the cupboard and saw Snape hurrying upstairs, clearly in a temper. Harry leaned back against the wall and considered what he'd just heard, his missing shoes forgotten.
The Death Eater murders were obviously taking a toll on everyone's nerves, not least Snape's, but a wholly new thought had also occurred to Harry. Could the sinister figure that had been watching the Death Eaters in Snape's mind represent the vigilante who had been stalking them for months? Had Harry been looking upon the part of Snape's soul that had given itself to murder? Harry shuddered at that thought, but it would make sense. There had been an unmistakable air of death about the shrouded figure.
Harry resumed the search for his shoes with renewed determination. He wanted to get back to Hogwarts as soon as possible in the morning and he hoped that Dumbledore would be back. They had a great deal to discuss.